Swiss Alps provide a wonderful window to Switzerland life

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by Howard Lestrud, ECM Online Managing Editor — When we hear of the Swiss Alps, we immediately think of tall mountains and skiing. Judy and I recently had the opportunity to view the Swiss Alps from our bedroom window as we enjoyed holiday (vacation) with some dear friends introduced to us by our daughter.

Prior to taking our trip of a lifetime in October, I did considerable studying about the country of Switzerland. I used my DK Eyewitness Travel book on Switzerland. Look at all the books available on countries around the world:

Claudia and Thomas and Andrea and Christian and their families were our hosts in the Swiss Alps for one week. We were actually located in the Riederalps, about 6300 feet above sea level. Go to

Riederalp is a municipality in the district of Raron in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. It was created in 2003 through the merger of Goppisberg, Greich and Ried-Mörel.

Riederalp has an area, as of 2011, of 21 square kilometers (8.1 sq mi). Of this area, 27.7 percent is used for agricultural purposes, while 42.0 percent is forested. Of the rest of the land, 3.0 percent is settled (buildings or roads) and 27.3 percent is unproductive land.

In the small village where we stayed, many live there permanently but other housing is made available to vacationers and tourists.

Aletsch Glacier

Judy and Howard Lestrud visited the Aletsch Glacier recently in the Swiss Alps. It stretches for 14 miles and is one mile wide. (Photo by Thomas Leeman)

The mid-mountain resort area of Riederalp sits on a south-facing terrace, south of the 23 km (14 mi) long Aletsch Glacier—Europe’s largest, in the Bernese Alps. The altitude of the village (1,930 m [6,330 ft]) allows good view of the Pennine Alps with some of its highest summits such as the Fletschhorn, Dom and Matterhorn.

Reading from the Wikipedia website on Riederalp, we learn:

“Riederalp has a population (as of December 2011) of 529. As of 2008, 10.6 percent of the population are resident foreign nationals. Over the last 10 years (2000–2010 ) the population has changed at a rate of -3.9 percent. It has changed at a rate of -3.9 percent due to migration and at a rate of 3.6% due to births and deaths.

“Most of the population (as of 2000) speaks German (95.6 percent) as their first language, Serbo-Croatian is the second most common (1.9 percent) and French is the third (0.8 percent).

As of 2008, the population was made up of 479 Swiss citizens and 57 non-citizen residents (10.63 percent of the population). As of 2000, children and teenagers (0–19 years old) make up 23.9 percent of the population, while adults (20–64 years old) make up 59.4 percent and seniors (over 64 years old) make up 16.7 percent.

As of 2009, the construction rate of new housing units was 9.3 new units per 1000 residents. The vacancy rate for the municipality, in 2010, was 1.33 percent.

The building containing the apartment we rented for a week in the Riederalps was constructed in 1648. Our apartment was recently remodeled and definitely has a modern impression but its outer structure is well preserved and likely looks like it did hundreds of years ago.

Our apartment was located about two blocks from Claudia and Thomas and Andrea and Christian. Each morning, we would trek to breakfast at Claudia and Thomas’ flat. On our way, we were amazed at the beautiful countryside. Wandering cattle, adorned with loud-clanging bells, could be seen in the landscape below. A local church was also located in the middle of our small village and provided us with time checks on the hour.

En route to the Riederalps, we noticed narrow roads and the need to pull over to the side to let oncoming traffic pass. We also noticed mirrors strategically placed on the roadways to see what might be coming around the corner. Tunnels also provided challenges and the best way to navigate these tunnels was to step on the gas pedal when noticing the tunnel vacant on the other end.

From the Riederalps, we trekked higher and higher in the mountains, able to see the Matterhorn and other large mountains in the distance. The first day we attempted to go toward the Aletsch Glacier, we were turned back due to threatening weather. Two days later, we successfully made the trip to the glacier.

More on the Aletsch glacier can be learned by going to this Wikipedia site:

Let’s read: “The Aletsch Glacier (German: Aletschgletscher) or Great Aletsch Glacier (German: Grosser Aletschgletscher) is the largest glacier in the Alps. It has a length of about 23 km (14 mi) and covers more than 120 square kilometres (46 sq mi) in the eastern Bernese Alps in the Swiss canton of Valais. The Aletsch Glacier is composed of three smaller glaciers converging at Concordia, where its thickness is estimated to be near 1 km (3,300 ft). It then continues towards the Rhone valley before giving birth to the Massa River.

“The whole area, including other glaciers is part of the Jungfrau-Aletsch Protected Area, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001.

“The Aletsch Glacier is one of the many glaciers located between the cantons of Berne and Valais on the Bernese Alps located east of the Gemmi Pass. The whole area is considered to be the largest glaciated area in western Eurasia.The Fiescher and Aar glaciers lying on the east have similar extensions.

“Except the Finsteraarhorn, all the highest summits of the Bernese Alps are located within the drainage basin of the glacier. The Jungfrau and Mönch constitute the northern boundary; the Gross Fiescherhorn and Gross Wannenhorn lie on its east side; finally the culminating point, the Aletschhorn (4,195 meters/13,763 feet) is located on the west side.

“Before reaching the maximum flow, three smaller glaciers converge at Concordia (German: Konkordiaplatz).”

On the day we arrived at the Aletsch Glacier, temperatures were cool and clouds at times covered the scenic beauty of the glacier. With the help of my Nikon camera’s long lens, I was able to more clearly see the crevasses created by the glacier. We actually enjoyed a noon lunch in a small restaurant at he top of the glacier site.

The Aletsch Glacier resulted from the accumulation and compaction of snow.


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